You know the old baseball adage, good pitching beats good hitting? Save it for October.
The best position player in baseball, Angels outfielder Mike Trout, faced the best pitcher in baseball, Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw, for the first time in a regular season game (Trout flew out on three fastballs in the 2013 All-Star game against Kershaw) last night at a sold-out Dodger Stadium.¬†
A year ago no one would blame you for assuming the most-anticipated matchup between the Angels and Dodgers in 2014 would be Trout and Yasiel Puig. Both are built like NFL linebackers yet run like halfbacks and are two of the most exciting players in the game today to watch. But while Kershaw, 26, inked a seven-year, $215 million deal in January, and the Angels locked up Trout, 22, through 2020 for an average annual value of $24 million ten weeks later, the Florida Highway Patrol arrested Puig for driving 110 mph in a 70-mph zone.
Then April rolled around and tales of Puig’s immaturity flooded Dodgers manager Don Mattingly’s nightmares while Trout and Kershaw quietly hit the I-5 freeway, slammed on the gas and raced to replace Derek Jeter as the face of MLB with jaw-dropping 2014 campaigns.
Trout (.305/.394/.586) led all of MLB in Wins Above Replacement¬†the past two years and is leading the league again this season. He was named the All-Star Game most valuable player and his Angels have the second-best record in baseball.
Meanwhile, Kershaw (13-2, 1.82 ERA, 0.85 whip) won two Cy Young awards in the last three seasons (2011 and 2013) and will battle Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto these next two months for some more hardware. And his 19.4 WAR since 2012 is the most among all starting pitchers.
As Tuesday rolled around, the baseball world took notice of this epic matchup of the game’s best players. ESPN dissected the matchup with sexy graphs and awesome analytics while its Baseball Tonight crew yapped about Trout’s low-ball crushing skills and suggested how Kershaw should attack the five-tool stud up in the zone. Bob Costas taped an interview with the duo for the MLB Network¬† in which Kershaw washed Trout’s balls. Some other things might’ve happened but that’s all I remember. WE KNOW, CLAYTON, HE’S SUPER DREAMY AND SUPER AWESOME.
And we all anticipated who would “win” the night. Well here’s what happened.
After Angels shortstop Erick Aybar popped out a bunt attempt, Kershaw dared Trout with a fastball low in the zone, Trout’s sweet spot, which he took (as he does, all the damn time). Kershaw missed with a curve ball low and away and then followed up with another fastball, this time higher in the zone. Trout ripped a hard ground ball in the hole on the left side and barely beat out Juan Uribe’s throw following a fantastic play.
Kershaw went hard and away again, this time belt high and tad slower at 92 mph. Trout drilled it down left field line for a stand-up double. Another outside fastball that Trout pulled. As he told Costas in the interview, in last year’s All-Star Game, he hit a 2-0 outside fastball to right after trying to pull it. Trout stuck with that same game plan tonight.
Trout entered the batter’s box with no one on. Again. THANKS FOR NOTHING TONIGHT, AYBAR. Fastball down and in, 94 mph, for strike one. Afraid of tossing out anything Trout can extend on, Kershaw threw another 94-mph fastball, in the same spot Trout smacked for a double, but this time Trout took the pitch. Strike two. He must’ve been looking for something soft. Never one to MIX SOMETHING FUCKING UP, Kershaw threw another four-seam, 94-mph fastball, this time off the plate, but the umpire got bored with all the fastballs and rung Trout up. Fox Trax even indicated the ball was outside. So don’t you DARE think I wasn’t objective.
When the eighth rolled around, the Dodgers clutched a 3-2 lead and Mattingly replaced Kershaw with reliever Brian Wilson. When Sophia, the 5-year-old from Sherman Oaks sitting seven rows up behind home plate knows a 94-mph fastball is coming, it’s time to pull the starter. Mattingly knows.
And with that, Godzilla versus Mothra was done. Trout edged Kershaw, going 2-for-3 with a double, a run and a strikeout. The Dodgers walked-off on a slow ground ball after Angels catcher Chris Iannetta decided keeping the game tied wasn’t worth a season-ending broken wrist courtesy of Uribe’s giant abdomen.
On this August night, as both teams battle for western division titles, the hitter beat the pitcher. I’d love to find out what’d happen should the two meet in October.
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